By Jair Oballe, Class of 2019

Look of SilenceOn October 27th, the Duke Human Rights Center@FHI screened the second film in the Rights! Camera! Action! Series. The Look of Silence, produced by Drafthouse Films, follows Adi, an optometrist who travels around his community in Indonesia searching for information about the people who murdered his brother.

As a work study student for the Duke Human Rights Center, I had little prior knowledge of this film entering the room; my task was simply to take notes and draft a blogpost for our website. However, within the first ten minutes, I was taken aback by this documentary. The Look of Silence is aptly named. Adi interviewed assailants with his composed, unwavering stare. I watched the film’s unfolding atrocities in stunned silence.

I have recommended it to all of my friends and family, as well as the next two films in the series.  Here is my summary of the documentary for anyone who was unable to attend the screening.

In 1965, the Indonesian government was overthrown by a military dictatorship whose regime was built on nationalism and fear.  During the dictatorship, one million “communist” Indonesians were murdered, most of whom were actually union laborers and farmworkers.

Time magazine and CNN news called this coup the “best news to come out of Asia,” and “the single largest communist defeat in history.” For those accused of communism, the reality was much different. Adi interviewed witnesses, prison guards, killers, and government officials to understand their stories.

Public witnesses proved unreliable. Those old enough to remember the time period state that nothing happened, or that they knew nothing about what was taking place beyond the imprisonment of political revolutionaries.

Former members of the military regime were hostile and blamed Adi for opening healed wounds through his questioning. Commanders attributed the actual atrocities to an authority figure giving the orders. Regardless of blame, the government was protecting their actions, and none of the interviewees seemed to feel any type of remorse or regret. They saw themselves as heroes defending their nation, proud of the status and wealth they received for their work, and emotionally removed from the citizens they had beaten, beheaded, and thrown into local rivers.

When asked to justify these types of actions, a former regime commander stated, “Politics is the process of achieving ones ideals in several ways.”

In the conversation following the film, two panelists were invited to speak about their experiences working in Indonesia. For Christian C. Lentz, a professor of Geography at UNC Chapel Hill, politics in Indonesia is framed as a struggle. This struggle began with Indonesia’s fight for independence from its colonizer, and continued in the 1960’s in the fight for “democracy” amidst a wave of international communist fear.

Under this guise, the “several ways” utilized to achieve political ideals were legitimized under the narrative of preserving independence and political stability. They included torture, mutilation, prolonged imprisonment, and countless other human rights abuses left unacknowledged and unprosecuted. As for the former regime commander, he currently works as a politician serving the communities of people he eliminated.

While we are able to watch this film removed from its reality, Adi the optometrist risked his life in questioning these political leaders. Although one of these leaders asked, he never gave away where he lived. Regardless, a portion of the film’s earnings went towards travel and living arrangements to move Adi out of Indonesia and the probable ramifications for contributing to this film.

The next screening is A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness which shines light on women’s rights in Pakistan. The tension between the country’s modern ideals and cultural traditions can be seen through “honor killings,” where Pakistani women accused of dishonoring their families are killed, with no punishments given towards the murderers. The documentary follows Saba, an “honor killing” survivor.